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Teach Teachers to Teach
Posting Date: 07/18/2011

Terry Donnelly

Quality teachers don’t grow on trees. The first line of offense in eliminating incompetent teachers is the proactive measure of education. If teacher candidates work through a rigorous university program that enables them to feel competent and comfortable entering classrooms as professional educators, teacher failures would drop to near null.

As it stands, most teacher training programs are 120 hours (full load of courses for four college years) that include one semester of student teaching in an established classroom. These students take content classes to build their knowledge of math, English, science, and other subjects they will teach mixed with a variety of classes in sociology, psychology, and pedagogy–the art of teaching.

As is, many students who have selected an education major see limited work with live students and almost never experience large groups until their last semester when they are unceremoniously dropped into a classroom as the student teacher.

Most pre-service educators are assigned case studies or tutoring opportunities in one class or another along the way, but they don’t get to rehearse real teaching until it is almost too late.

These students have invested many thousands of dollars in their education and, during that last frantic semester, some find that they really don’t like working with groups of kids. They find themselves trapped, especially elementary trained students who don’t have a content major.

Typically, elementary studies include two or three minors, as teachers will be expected to instruct in six or more contents. Secondary teachers generally have a specific major that can be transferred into other professions, but still, upon graduation, they will be licensed and recruited into a school district. They will take the job to pay off loans or keep peace at home and never really like teaching.

Simply, the job is too tough and not well enough paid to do the work necessary to excel if one doesn’t love it.

I have been lucky enough to be involved with two separate programs at state universities that worked diligently to address these problems. The first was at Michigan State University’s Institute for Research on Teaching. The program has been granted

multi-million dollar federal funding starting in 1976 and continues today. The process includes placement of pre-service students into functioning classrooms from the time they are sophomores. Tons of data and graduate level study on training teachers comes from this investment.

Students begin working in classrooms as monitors and graduate into working with individuals, small groups, and even overseeing whole group activities. The trade-off for the public schools is that the education school at MSU provides a great resource of matriculated interns who make the classroom teachers’ jobs much easier and more productive.

These education majors spend as much as eight hours a week in real classrooms for two and a half years before being fed to the wolves as a student teacher. Attrition of students who find teaching is not for them happens as underclassmen when changing majors is more the norm than exception rather than finding as a first year teacher, under contract, that they want out.

The other program was at the University of Colorado and the National Network for Educational Renewal. Their teacher education curriculum was a true professional study akin to an engineer’s that required a five-year course of study.

Students were not placed into a student teaching classroom until after a four-year baccalaureate degree had been earned. The teaching license was awarded post B.A. from an additional year of study wherein the recent graduates were in classes and schools doing a variety of studies one semester and as student teachers their tenth semester. Unfortunately, this successful program was eliminated due to (what else?) fiscal considerations.

There are data available to teacher training institutes that can lead to better competency in beginning educators. The key is engaging the models with a priority toward practical experience plus university study rather than simply providing a basic program in the most economical fashion.

An education budget is important at both state and federal levels, but must be sufficient to get the job at hand done. If we truly want quality teachers, now is not the time to cut university educational training programs.

Terry Donnelly is a retired teacher and the author of “First You Hear Thunder” a novel retelling events and history of the civil rights movement. For more on the book go to and for more of Terry’s writings, both opinion and fiction, go to


  • Posted Date: 07/18/2011
    I enjoyed reading Terry Donnelly's article on teacher training. He made some excellent points regarding teacher success in the classroom and training.
    By: Johnna DeBella
  • Posted Date: 07/18/2011
    Splendid news it is to find Terry at a new home! As a dedicated reader of his work,Iam delighted to follow him to The Mesquite Citizen Journal. Jeanne O'Malley Garran ACT 2605 Australia
    By: Jeanne O'Malley
  • Posted Date: 07/19/2011
    I would heartily agree with Terry's comments. As a 20+ year classroom teacher, I have had a number of interns and student teachers whose training and knowledge base were not what they needed to be. The job is too tough and too time consuming for me to be able to remedy the situation in the relatively short time they are in my classroom. We need to put our money where our mouth is in regard to public education!
    By: Julie Avirett
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